Monday, December 15, 2014

The Beginning of Our Adventure to Disney World

As most of you know, we did not tell Victoria that she was going to Disney World until she was in the airport.  Greg and I did not initially decide not to tell her all the way until the day we were leaving, but as the weeks went by, and our trip came closer, we figured why not go for it.  It would be much more difficult to surprise her like this again because I am pretty sure she’ll be reading by the next time we make the trip.  As you can see from the pictures of her in front of the signs, the not being able to read was pretty much key in keeping this a surprise!

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We also decided when planning this trip that we would leave Amelia at home, mainly because of her age, but also because when I was five years old, my parents took me to Disney, all on my own and I wanted Victoria to have an experience all on her own too.  There will be more trips where they will go as sisters, but this trip it was just Victoria, me and Greg.  This has been a huge transition year for Victoria as she learns the role of Big Sister, and Greg and I wanted to spend some time with just her.  We also like to call this our “"trial run” as we made note of things to do and not to do on future trips (post about that coming soon!). 

Grammy came to spend the night the night before (arriving after Victoria was in bed) and when we woke Victoria up in the morning we told her that we had to take Daddy to the airport for work. She did not question a thing and was looking forward to seeing the planes.  We checked our bags and then scouted out the perfect spot to tell her she was going to Disney!  We thought in front of a Christmas tree at the airport was most appropriate.  So with video phone in hand, we told her she was GOING TO DISNEY! Her reaction was priceless and worth the months of anticipation. 

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We stayed on Disney property, so we took the complimentary Magical Express from the airport to our resort.  We stayed at the Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort.  There were sections of the resort with different movie themes, we stayed in the Mighty Ducks themed section.  We chose a budget hotel because our schedule was packed and we knew we would not be at our hotel much at all, although Victoria did have about 10 minutes to swim in the pool on the morning we left.  The resort was nice, a little dated, nothing too fancy, and a little far from the attractions, but we enjoyed our stay there.

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We dropped our bags off, changed, and then we were off to the Magic Kingdom. I highly recommend Magic Kingdom being the first place you go when at Disney (at the last).  We arrived just in time for the Festival of Fantasy Parade (new this year).  We grabbed a seat on Main Street (right where I’ve read not to watch the parade, more on that in a later post), because the sidewalk was filling up, and this was the only day in our schedule to see it.  Watching this parade was an excellent way to start off Disney!!!  The floats in this parade were nothing like we’ve ever seen before, so detailed, a great introduction to what was to come. 

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After the parade we rotated Fast Pass rides (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Thunder Mt. Railroad & Peter Pan’s Flight) with non Fast Pass Rides, and as the night went on, the wait times decreased.  The park was open until 10pm that night.  Victoria was just tall enough (thanks to her hair bow) to ride Thunder Mt. Railroad and she loved it!  The Mine Train is a new ride at Disney (opened in May) and this was her absolute favorite ride, she even waited 80 minutes to ride it on the last day we were there…ahhhh!

We rode rides in Adventureland, Frontierland, and Fantasyland. It was so much fun to watch Victoria beam with excitement over just about everything!  She was at such a great age for her first trip.  She wanted to just keep going and going, I don’t think she ate dinner until 8:30pm that night. 

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Thunder Mountain Railroad

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7 Dwarfs Mine Train

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Busted taking pictures on the ride!

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Back of the Castle

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It’s a Small World

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Victoria and Pascal

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We had a great first day/night at the park!  We left when it closed and went back to the hotel to rest up for an exciting day at Animal Kingdom the next day!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Disney on the Cheap…Or Something Like That

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Let me start by saying that Disney and the word cheap do not really go in the same sentence. Disney is not a cheap vacation, you can do a few things to make it not as expensive, but it is still lots of $$$.  But with that said, Disney is also worth every single dollar, the magic your family experiences is not like any vacation, and you cannot put a price of the memories made at Disney.

There are a few things we did to make our trip a little less expensive and I wanted to share.  I will say that most of my ideas came from WDW Prep School website, so they are not my original ideas.  If you don’t follow them on facebook and you’re planning a trip to Disney, I highly suggest it! Shannon runs the page, she is always giving updates on fast pass availability, park highlights & happenings, hosts helpful podcasts, and has open question night on Sundays where you can ask her anything!  I created a Pinterest board with all of her blog posts that were helpful in planning our trip, she is seriously the best!

We booked our trip in May of this year, advanced planning is key.  You want to have any Disney trip booked before the 180 day mark so that you can get first pick on reservations. We planned to travel during a “off peak” week, to saving a small amount on our hotel room.  We stayed at a budget resort, Disney All-Star Movies.  We picked a budget resort because we did not plan to spend a lot of time there so amenities were not a priority for us. There are pros and cons to staying at a budget resort.

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(pictures from our budget resort)

Pros:

*The most inexpensive way to stay onsite at Disney (our room was approximately $109/night)

*Staying onsite is a lot more convenient than staying off site

*Staying onsite allows you the perks of first priority reservations to character dinning's and fast passes (this is extremely important!)

*Free transportation to all Disney attractions

Cons:

*The resort is older, could use some updating, but still had a good Disney feel to it

*The All-Star Hotels (there are 3 of them) share transportation buses to all of the attractions except Magic Kingdom, where they have their own bus. This can be annoying when there is standing room only on the bus and you have to stop at two other hotels before arriving at yours.

*Limited  food options (there was only cafeteria style place to eat)

*The budget resorts are further away from the parks, so you have to factor in more travel time

After staying at a budget resort, we would do it again.  We did not dislike our experience there, but next time we go we will have more people with us (Grammy, Papa and Amelia) so we will look into places that have the best suite options.

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(pictures from a luxury resort, The Grand Floridian, just a small difference, right? )

My Top 14 Money Saving Tips for Disney

1.) We bought a Disney lanyard and Disney pins before we left.  The lanyard was $5 on Amazon and the Pins were $1.09/each, and 100% tradeable in the park.  We used a highly recommend seller on Ebay, you do not get to pick your pins but you can make requests. I said: “Pins for a 4yo girl who is into the basic characters, princesses and Pixar characters” I listed a few and he matched my request almost 100%)

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2.) We purchase Disney gift cards are Target because we have a Red Card, so we saved 5%, doesn’t seem like a lot but when you buy $200 (we should have bought more) and saved $10. I recommend buying $400 and saving $20.

3.) We ordered a case of water from Staples.com and had it shipped (for free if you are a rewards member) to our hotel room.  Disney water is gross and bottled water in the park is expensive.  We brought water bottles to the park full of ice and then added our bottled water to it as needed, we used almost the entire case!

4.) I have been collecting Disney attire for the entire family for almost a year.  Clearance racks and consignment sales (JBF sales in both spring & fall) are where I scored some awesome deals.  Everyday of the trip everyone in our family wore something Disney to the park, I wasn’t even tempted to buy any Disney related clothing in the gift shops because we had more than enough!

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5.) Disney princess dresses, we brought all of ours, if you don’t, you’ll pay $70+ in the park.  I shop for princess dresses as a part of my Halloween clearance shopping, I have never paid more than $12 for a princess dress!

6.) We made reservations for a Character breakfast instead of dinner, breakfasts are about $30/person where dinners can be $50+/person. (I will talk more about this in the lessons we learned at Disney post, coming soon!)

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(and there are Mickey waffles!)

7.) Dining Plan. Do your research before purchasing the dining plan.  We did not purchase the dining plan and it worked out to be the cheaper option for us.  I didn’t like the idea of dealing with reservations everyday of our trip (because you never know what your actual day will be like).  We also have one of the World’s Pickiest Eaters, and most kids’ meals she would not have eaten. 

8.) Pack Snacks, lots of them.  I filled almost an entire small luggage with snacks, juice boxes and organic milk boxes (they don’t need to be refrigerated), and breakfast food items.  We saved a lot of $$$ because snacks in the park will run you $4-$12 depending on what you pick.  It was also nice to have the convenience of having them in your bag, especially when your toddler gets hungry while waiting in line.

9.) Tinkerbell Treasures.  I did not come up with this idea, but it was pretty genius. Since we are in the season of Santa and Elf of the Shelf and “someone is always watching” it worked well in our plan.  I have been collecting Disney related snacks, candy and small toys for the past year.  Victoria was told that if she behaves at the park each day Tinkerbell will leave some treasures under her pillow each night. It really worked like a charm, she went to the bathroom when we told her, she ate (for them most part) when we told her and stopped a lot of pre-meltdowns because she was told Tinkerbell was watching.  While this didn’t save us completely from buying park souvenirs, it did cut down significantly.

10.) Glow sticks and other park-related items.  We brought a Buzz light up spinning toy for her to use at night (same as the one in the park for $14) that I found on clearance over the summer for under $5. I also had been stashing glowsticks for months and while I forgot to bring most of them, I did have a few for her to use.  I also forgot to bring the bubble gun that I purchased in the summer for $5, because they are $12 in the park.  Any light up toy you have at home, bring them with you!

11.) Greg and I split the cost of the trip, I had planned to use some of my savings to pay for the trip since I am currently on maternity leave, but I didn’t have to because I made my half of the trip’s worth by selling  gently used clothing and toys that we no longer need at both of the fall JBF Children’s Consignment sales.  If you have never sold at one, I highly recommend, earn $$$$!

12.) This one seems like a no brainer, but is worth mentioning…use a credit card that earns you rewards to pay off your trip.  Greg used his Priority Club card, which earns us free hotel stays, which we have redeemed several times already!

13.) Memory Maker. This is the photo/video service that Disney offers and it costs $169.  All pictures are linked to your magic band.  We did not purchase the Memory Maker because every Disney photographer will also take pictures with your camera if you ask.  There are a few we might purchase individually, but that will cost $14.95 per picture. I took over 1,500 pictures on this trip, so there was no need for us to purchase Memory Maker.

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14.) Booking our trip early and staying on Disney property, we did not have to pay for our Disney Magic Bands, which will cost you $12.95/band in the park.

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Stayed tuned for all the lessons these Rookies learned while on our Disney World vacation…

Friday, November 28, 2014

Halloween Night!

We are almost into December and I never posted about the fun we had during the week of Halloween!  We had Grammy & Papa living with us for most of the week (they actually closed on their new house on Halloween).  A few days before Halloween we carved our pumpkins.  We went to three pumpkin patches this fall, but did not buy any of our pumpkins there because 1.) who wants to carry them around, not us! and 2.) they are $2.49/ea at Aldis.  Every year I always buy three pumpkins, so early October I came home with 3 perfect for carving pumpkins.  Victoria always picks what she wants to have carved and they are never anything easy, but Greg is always up for the challenge.

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This year she picked Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Sofia from Sofia the First.  Amelia  and a “1st” carved into her pumpkin (just like V did on her 1st Halloween).  I also read on Pinterest about making a bleach spray concoction to avoid mold and help preserve the pumpkin, I will say, it was a Pinterest success!  That night, we lite the pumpkins and took some pictures, it was a race against the sun going down, and I lost, but we were able to grab a few cute shots and grammy’s Halloween treats after the pictures were a nice bribe.

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On Halloween day, we took a trip to the grocery store, I dropped V off at the kids area, where she made 4 Halloween crafts in 20 minutes! She also wanted to read her Halloween books all day, she has quite the collection (I wonder if her momma loves Halloween??).

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On Halloween night we invited our old neighbors over for a quick pizza dinner and then trick-or-treating in our neighborhood.  This would be the third year in a row that it has rained on Halloween, but there was no stopping Victoria and her bestie Darran, they were excited to go out!!!

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Amelia and Declan stayed in with the moms to pass out candy (and talked Disney planning) and the dads ventured out with the girls around the neighborhood.  To our surprise, they were gone for a long time, braving the rain, but I think after carrying the heavy candy buckets, they finally decided to call it quits.  Victoria was very proud of all her candy and of course wanted to eat it ALL.  We had less kids than we normally do, so a lot of leftover candy went with Greg to work the next day.  We enjoyed having the instant bribes for about two weeks, Halloween candy is magical, she did all kinds of things for us!

Victoria had so much fun with her friends on Halloween night, they always have a great time when they are together.  She is already looking forward to next year!!!

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